There is one personality that has defined the tension of African Americanism for the 20th century and that is Booker T. Washington. Washington’s approach has historically had a dubious place in the African American story. His primary concern was not on the cultural or spiritual development of his people, instead he felt the best way for African Americans to raise their stake in the country was to turn inward and to build themselves socially and economically. Washington did not believe that African Americans needed to live up to the expectations of their white counterparts, instead he felt it more important that African Americans invest in themselves, build their own institutions and develop their own standards and ways of being. His ideas were so significant that he deeply influenced the development of both Pan-Africanist and African American Islamic thought and praxis throughout the 20th century as well. This essay will review the life of Booker T. Washington and his creation of the Tuskegee Machine with particular attention on his ideas that would help to shape the religious strain for African Americans in the US.
Much of Booker T. Washington’s early life is shrouded in mystery. That is to say, that there certain are details that have never fully come to light. For instance, the historical record is not clear on the actually date of his birth, just that he was born in 1856 five years before the start of the Civil War in the Virginia Commonwealth. It is also not clear who Washington’s father was; it is suggested that his paternal DNA donor was an enslaver from a neighboring plantation, but there is not enough evidence to support this notion. Furthermore, it is also not clear what his mother’s full name was, she is simply referred to as Jane. As well, the name “Washington” was not their original family name, instead it is the product of marriage after emancipation. For Booker T. and his mother, freedom came with the conclusion of the Civil War and the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. After they were liberated they moved from Virginia to West Virginia, a state that had joined the Union before the conclusion of the Civil War, to be with Washington Ferguson, Booker T.’s stepfather. In West Virginia, young Washington worked in the salt and coal minds to earn his way and help his family. From a young age, he understood the value of hard work while keeping particular focus on the importance of a strong foundation.
Washington did not return to his birth state until he attended Hampton Institute (later named Hampton University, a Historically Black University) where he excelled. While attending Hampton he worked and studied, earning his way as a dedicated student. His hard work eventually earned the attention of Hampton president Samuel C. Armstrong, who recommended Washington to be leader of the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. Washington’s work at Tuskegee institution would go on the shape American history in extremely dynamic ways. Under his guidance Tuskegee became an educational powerhouse known in many circles as the Tuskegee Machine. The Tuskegee Machine was not just comprised of the institution’s faculty but as well of prominent community leaders throughout the South, including farmers, artists, shade-tree teachers and small business owners. However, there was a palpable dictator-like manner by which Washington ran his Tuskegee Machine. He demanded unquestioning loyalty from those within the machine and for those outside of the machine (or those proven to be disloyal) he attacked with particular ferocity that was feared by many.
Due to Washington’s politics and the manner in which he ran his institution, many considered him to be a race traitor. In large part this was due to his seemingly placating approach to white leadership (read: white supremacist leadership), who were his and his institutions greatest financial supporters. His reputation was well earned because in addition to him accepting the support of not-so-well-meaning whites, he had no qualms about going after other African American scholars and leaders with whom he did not agree. Harlan elaborates: “Having committed himself to the business elite, Washington took a dim view of the leaders of the working class. Immigrants represented to him, as to many blacks, labor competitors; Jews were the exception here, as he held them up to ambitious black as models of the work-ethic and group solidarity.” Additionally, he often bought into the same ideology of the white supremacist zeitgeist of the time which believed Black people to be a “child race” and in need of cultural direction and guidance.
Despite conciliating to white power, Washington’s ideology and approach became extremely important to the evolution of Black Nationalist movements and organizations throughout the 20th century. To elaborate, one of the things that greatly influenced Marcus Garvey and his self-help philosophy was his personal reading of Washington’s Up From Slavery. Moreover, what Garvey did with Washington’s philosophy was to help usher in a new religious understanding for African Americans that helped to shape and redefine the religious conversation for the community in the 20th century. Garvey’s read of Washington lead to the formation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). As well, at the same time the UNIA was being developed the Moorish Science Temple of America (MSTA) was also rising in the Midwest and on the East Coast with a similar philosophy and structure. From the rhetoric and philosophy of UNIA and the MSTA came the Nation of Islam (NOI) whose central focus was self-help, self-organization and self-autonomy. It is not a logical leap to argue that the cultural foundation of the NOI and the organizations that succeeded it originated from the self-help philosophy of Booker T. Washington given its lineage.
How many words does it take to define a life? For Booker T. Washington it only took three: Up From Slavery, one of the most influence books in African American history. Again, despite Washington’s dubious place in history, his impact and influence cannot be understated. Washington’s writing and his organization of the Tuskegee Machine at the Institute by the same name shaped the conversation concerning African American advancement in the 20th century. Though there is much ambiguity surrounding Washington and his politics, one cannot understate or take anything away from his impact. More than a century has passed since the death of Booker T. Washington and still we debate his impact in the context of African American advancement, making it clear his impact has reverberated through time. Because of this, despite how our personal feelings may sway us, his life and work are more than worthy of further critical examination.
 Robert Jefferson Norrell. Up from history: The life of Booker T. Washington. Harvard University Press, 2009. John Hope Franklin, and August Meier, eds. Black leaders of the twentieth century. (University of Illinois Press, 1982), 1-18.
 August Meier. Negro thought in America, 1880-1915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington. Vol. 118. University of Michigan Press, 1988. Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington-Up from Slavery: Autobiography. epubli, 2019.
 Michael Rudolph West. The Education of Booker T. Washington: American Democracy and the Idea of Race Relations. (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 84.
 Booker T. Washington. Booker T. Washington-Up from Slavery: Autobiography. epubli, 2019. Booker T.’s stepfather’s name was Washington Ferguson. He escaped from slavery during the Civil War and secured his freedom in West Virginia. Once free Booker T. adopted his stepfather’s name.
 Not only was the entire student body of Tuskegee Institute Black, so was the faculty. This was not the case for every HBCU.
 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century.(University of Illinois Press, 1982), 4.
 Ibid., 4.
 Ibid., 33-36. T. Thomas Fortune, started out as a Tuskegee loyalist, but as he fell out of favor with Washington, he became meat for the Tuskegee machine to grind. Moreover, as discuss in a previous essay, Ida B. Wells-Barnett also became a target of Washington’s as well.
 To be fair W.E.B. DuBois was also known for going after those he didn’t agree with.
 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Twentieth Century. (University of Illinois Press, 1982), 10.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 109-111.
 The religious influence of the NOI in the 20th century cannot be understated – the NOI movement provided a necessary divergent perspective from that of the deeply Christian movement nurtured by Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As well, they are responsible for the rise of Minister Malcolm X who rhetoric and philosophy set the world ablaze.
After the Civil War one of the problems that African people in America faced was the issue of identity. Who were African Americans - to their former enslavers, to the country - but most importantly, to themselves? The crux of this identity problem was centered on the fact that African Americans were working to find their place in a society that enslaved them, then freed them -- under certain conditions. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner worked diligently during wartime and peacetime to help fashion a sense of being for his people. As Turner worked to forge an identity for his people through their culture and spiritual essence, he was called a ‘prophet’ and many looked to him for a new spiritual identity. Moreover, Turner was a pillar of strength for the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the South, a point that boosted his reputation as a Holy Man ordained by God to bring justice to the plight of Africans in the United States. This essay will delve into Bishop Turner’s life with a particular focus on his role as a spiritual leader of his people.
Bishop Turner was born free in Newberry, South Carolina in the antebellum South to Sarah Greer and Hardy Turner (who died at an early age). There is a certain amount of lore surrounding his heritage, for instance, it is said that he was of royal linage of the Mandingo people. However, it must be said that it is often an element of African American heritage (especially for leaders and history makers) that their unknown African roots are mythologized as royal. While it is clear, that to make up a past such as this speaks to an effort to build a sense of pride within a broken people, it is the opinion of this writer that a sense being and belonging is essential to pulling one’s self out of an oppressive situation and making a remarkable life out of very little is by itself remarkable. Therefore, regardless of Turner’s would-be royal African lineage, what is critically important is the impact he made in the lives of the people he came in contact with and his ability to shape the zeitgeist of the historical moment in which he lived.
Turner’s real royal lineage came from his grandmother who cared for him greatly and taught him to be proud of his heritage and never be ashamed of where he came from. Inspired by the Christian revivals of this time and his heritage, Turner understood his mission in life at a fairly young age and worked to earn his right to preach before he was twenty years old. From there his fame began to grow among the enslaved populace who were themselves growing impatient under the yoke of their European enslavers. As a preacher, Turner was not merely focused on the stories of the ancient prophets, but on the divine lineage of African people. To elaborate, Turner taught his parishioners that they were the descendants a great, mighty and divine people – God’s chosen few – whose purpose was to gain a deeper knowledge of the word of God to save a land devoid of morality.
Though Bishop Turner can be placed in the company of other race men and women of his time, he was a patriot first. He deeply resented the oppression America had wrought against his people, nonetheless, he felt that the Civil War represented a critical turning point towards a brighter future for the country. As well, freedom did not represent a time for retribution for African Americans, but instead an opportunity to show the world what God’s promise and what God’s people were capable of. Though Turner’s optimism was considerably misplaced, as he would quickly learn, he believed in the promise the zeitgeist symbolized. Nevertheless, it was the pride and hope that was instilled in him from a young age by his mother and grandmother that continued to order his steps as he looked towards the development and expansion his divine mission.
In the pre-emancipation South, Turner was a popular traveling preacher who traveled freely giving sermons to enslaved and free African Americans. His popularity grew so much that his sermons even attracted Southern whites who would often come to hear him speak. However, he had a religious revelation of his own during the latter part of the 1850s, in the form of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Not much is known about why he converted to the AME Church, perhaps he found the Church more culturally relevant, fitting his own predilection towards pride in his African heritage. Regardless, despite this omission in his history, what is known is that he quickly rose through the ranks in the AME Church and earned his first assignment as a mission before 1860. This assignment was in Baltimore and in this position he developed and rigorous religious education system that mandated attention to African culture as well as instruction in ancient languages to aid in the learning of biblical texts.
During the Civil War, Turner fought valiantly in battle for the North, however, he made the most impact as a Chaplain. He would minister to the troops and join them in battle. His reputation was dynamic and renowned, so much so that he was named the first African American Army chaplain by President Lincoln. After serving honorably, Turner set his aspirations towards impacting the lives of African Americans in the realm of politics. He was hopeful as a politician and because of his loyalty to the Union he became very active in the Republican Party in Georgia and was elected to state legislature in 1868. As a sycophant of republican party his presence amongst Southern republican was tolerated, however as he grew culturally he began to understand that African Americans did not have a real place in American society. Due to this, he shed his accommodationist stance and started to look towards Africa as the only rightful place for his people.
Turner’s work with the African Methodist Episcopal Church both in America and in Africa can be looked at from a couple of different angles. On the one hand, his efforts can be interpreted as an effort to colonize the minds and spirits of African people using a tool (Christianity) that has had a dubious presence. That is to say, the effort on the part of European Christians to missionize Africa is understood by many as simply a prelude to slavery, oppression and genocide - long way to ask: why would a Pan-Africanist support this posture?  However, on the other hand, Turner’s effort can be seen as simply a way to organize African people into a self-determining, self-organizing and cohesive people who strive of unity and self-betterment. For Turner Christianity could have just been the most abundant tool at his disposal at that particular time and space. That is to argue, Turner was not simply a “colonizer” like many (if not most) European Christians, he represented the AME church which is itself an important example of African self-determination. From this perspective, Christianity is just a veneer or better yet merely a tool towards a larger ends – Pan African unity.
There are many ways to understand Turner’s mission and resolve, but despite many divergent perspectives, one thing is clear: he believed in the betterment and upliftment of African people throughout the world. He was a Christian minister whose primary focus was the upliftment of African people, which at its root this makes him a Pan-Africanist. However, as passive readers of this history (as opposed to actors in it by virtue of our birth in this present time and space) it is easy to mold his words around our own theories and perspectives without really knowing the man. Nevertheless, knowing the history as it has been laid out, it seems Turner was a man of his time, deeply steeped in the struggles the that defined the zeitgeist of the later half of the 19th century and as such he rose to the occasion of his time, which is all any of us can do.
 This is referring to the vagrancy laws that impacted the lives of African Americans after the Emancipation Proclamation. Vagrancy laws required one to be able to demonstrate their employment status to be sent to prison where they would be put to work in the prison system. In other words, they would be re-enslaved.
 Leon F. Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black leaders of the nineteenth century. Vol. 82. (University of Illinois Press, 1991), 255.
 Ibid., 255. “Assigned to the A.M.E. mission in Baltimore, Turner began a rigorous program of educational training, studying Latin, Greek, Hebrew, and theology with several professors at Trinity College.”
 Ibid., 255.
 Ibid., 258-259.
 Ibid., 261.
 Ibid., 265.
 Stephen Ward Angell. Bishop Henry McNeal Turner and African-American Religion in the South. (University of Tennessee Press, 1992), 2.
 Leon F. Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black leaders of the nineteenth century. Vol. 82. (University of Illinois Press, 1991), 263. “While not nearly so well publicized as his promotion of African emigration, Turner’s missionary work on the continent produced tangible results for the A.M.E. church and facilitated the rise of black consciousness in South Africa.”
During the Civil War a number of unsung heroes rose to the proverbial occasion; some ran for freedom, others fought alongside union soldiers and still a few waged a personal war against defenders of the slavocracy. The conflict was a dirty and horrific, nevertheless, enslaved Africans fought their way to freedom by any means necessary. On the road to freedom certain individuals helped to free others enslaved Africans, sabotaged confederate strategies and generally did everything they could to disrupt southern slave holders, Roberts Smalls did all of those things and more during the Civil War. Once the conflict had concluded Smalls fought for freedom on a different but just as dangerous battle ground in the form of American politics. This essay will review the life and legacy of Robert Smalls and the cultural background of his people, the Gullah, with a particular focus on his efforts during and after the Civil War.
Robert Smalls was born into Gullah culture in South Carolina in 1839 to a woman named Lydia Polite. Though it is not clear who Smalls’ father was, his mother Lydia was middle aged when she gave birth to Robert and worked to provide the best possible life for him given the circumstances. She was Gullah, a syncretic African cultural group containing traditional remnants of Angolan, the Congo, Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal and Sierra Leone, centered on the Sea Islands off the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia. There are a number of cultural artifacts that make up the Gullah culture such as particular religious understandings, art, rice cultivation and linguistic patterns. Moreover, Gullah culture is an amalgamation of a variety of African cultures and serves as one of the original American examples of Pan-Africanism in praxis. That is to say, it is a clear example of African people pooling together their culture knowledge and resources in order to create a product that is critical to the survival of African people in an extremely hostile white supremacist environment.
The religion and culture of the Gullah people is best described as a syncretic amalgamation of West African spiritual systems. This amalgamation is of course the result of North American slave trade that is responsible for displacing millions of people and hundreds of cultures and languages. Because of the cruel institution of slavery, African people brought their cultures together as a way to survive in an alien and hostile environment. The result of this effort is the development of new cultures, the creole of Haiti and New Orleans is but one example. The Gullah are another prominent example. Gullah religion and culture in the region also informed various spiritual institutions. In particular, there are three churches that were associated with Smalls and the Gullah tradition: St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Beaufort Baptist Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church. Andrew Billingsley elaborates: “In Beaufort, South Carolina, three churches played important roles in the conversion of black to Christianity and in establishing a Christian framework for Robert Smalls’ forebears, himself and his family. St. Helena’s Episcopal Church, Beaufort Baptist Church and Tabernacle Baptist Church are located within three city blocks of each other. They changed substantially over the generations and had distinctive roles in the legacy of Robert Smalls.”
As a youth Smalls was precocious. He would often violate curfew, which inevitably lead to his arrest, but his mother’s owner would always bail him out and bring him home. Nevertheless, despite his rebellious nature, he was one of the favorites on the plantation. Though Smalls for born into slavery, he and his mother were house servants. For many African Americans there is an important distinction between those who were forced to work the fields and those who had the “privilege” of being a part of the enslaver’s household. Not only was the work and responsibility of being in the house physically less strenuous, both children and adults benefited from being in close proximity to the enslaver, not just by having access to better food and comforts but as well by having access to an education both from various forms of literature but also by learning the intricacies of white culture. To be clear, when survival is one’s only choice, all advantages must be considered and exploited. In Smalls’ case, despite the privileged position he and his mother had, this did not stop him from harboring deep resentment of the slave system and becoming a rebel in his own right when the country began to war with itself.
As a man, Smalls rose to prominence during the war. Informed by Gullah culture and the syncretic Christian churches he was a member of as a youth, Smalls became one of the most courageous soldiers in the Union Army. However, getting to that point took no small amount of savvy and intelligence. To elaborate, to escape from the cruel institution of slavery he commandeered a confederate vessel, the CSS Planter, with a few others who yearned for freedom and disguised himself in a confederate uniform in order to sneak across the Union line to freedom. After securing his freedom he joined the Union Army and continued to fight. After the war’s end, Smalls’ fight for freedom continued with his involvement in local, state and national politics. He was eventually elected to the US House of Representatives, representing South Carolina’s 5th congressional district and was able to impact the lives of thousands across the state. He also became deeply involved in the development of his home county by investing in the railway and the Black owned newspaper of his hometown, the Beaufort Southern Standard.
Though his name is not as well known as many of his peers, the legacy that Smalls left behind impacted his home state for generations. Today there are several schools in the state of South Carolina that are named after him as well as a Kuroda Class US naval vessel. Smalls began his life enslaved and was forced to fight for every ounce of his freedom. He did so with valor and distinction by liberating himself through his tenacity as an individual then by fighting for the freedom of his kinsman still in bondage, first as a soldier and then as a civic leader. Both battle fronts contain their respective pitfalls and difficulties, nonetheless he persevered in truly dynamic and dramatic fashion. His life has brought honor to the state of South Carolina and to the Gullah people from which he sprung. In an age where honor and duty do not always connect, Smalls’ example is a refreshing one.
 Andrew Billingsley. Yearning to breathe free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his families. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2007. Davis, Peggy Cooper. "Introducing Robert Smalls." Fordham L. Rev. 69 (2000): 1695. Smalls’ father is unknown. It is possible that his father was the enslaver who held his mother in captivity, which means Smalls himself was likely the product of rape.
 Wilbur Cross. Gullah culture in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. Pollitzer, William S. The Gullah people and their African heritage. University of Georgia Press, 1999. "Gullah." Oceanic Linguistics Special Publications, no. 14 (1975): 468-80. Accessed February 13, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/20006641.
 Morris Jenkins. "Gullah Island Dispute Resolution: An Example of Afrocentric Restorative Justice." Journal of Black Studies 37, no. 2 (2006): 299-319. Accessed February 13, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/40034415. “Throughout the first half of the 20th century, the praise houses were used as the community's political, social, and judicial center. Members of the community gained membership through "catching sense" and becoming a member of the Praise House and obtaining full membership into the community.”
 Wilbur Cross. Gullah culture in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. “The Gullah people are the descendants of African ethnic groups who arrived in America as early as the late seventeenth century and were forced to work on plantations in South Carolina and later Georgia. They were from many tribes including the Mandingo, Bamana, Wolof, Fula, Temne, Mende, Vai, Akan, Ewe, Bakongo and Kimbundu. The mixture of languages from Africa combined with English resulted in a creole language that eventually came to be known as Gullah.”
 Carter G. Woodson "ROBERT SMALLS AND HIS DESCENDANTS." Negro History Bulletin 11, no. 2 (1947): 27-46. Accessed February 27, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/44174742. “True Gullah people are very spiritual. You see a lot of them smiling cause they are in good stead with God. As long as you don't touch them, cause if you do you might see the devil come out. We are really strong, family people. Community is stronger than the individual. If a person is in need, you help them. You don't let them stay in need.”
 Andrew Billingsley. Yearning to breathe free: Robert Smalls of South Carolina and his families. Univ of South Carolina Press, 2007, 8. “St. Helena’s Episcopal Church was the spiritual and social home of the McKee family – the owners of Smalls, his mother, his grandmother and his older brother during slavery. Beaufort Baptist was the spiritual and social home of Lydia Polite Smalls and her son Robert during the first eleven formative years of his life. Tabernacle grew out of Beaufort Baptist and was the post-Civil War spiritual home of Smalls mother, Lydia, his wife Hannah and their Children.”
 To be clear, I am in no way arguing that White/European culture is superior to Black/African culture. Instead, I am suggesting that close proximity to European culture can be used as a weapon in the pursuit of freedom. Time and time again, there are examples of those Africans who had the trust of whites and therefore had access that other enslaved Africans did not. Making the house servant one of the most pivotal position in the African freedom struggle. One very important example is Nat Turner.
 Howard Westwood (1991). Black Troops, White Commanders and Freedmen During the Civil War. SIU Press. pp. 74–85.
 Stanley Turkel. Heroes of the American Reconstruction: Profiles of Sixteen Educators, Politicians and Activists. McFarland, 2005. Reef, Catherine. African Americans in the Military. Infobase Publishing, May 14, 2014, pp. 184–186.
 Catherine Reef. African Americans in the Military. Infobase Publishing, May 14, 2014, pp. 184–186.
In the freedom struggle there are few who have exemplified the effort and tenacity that has been put forth by Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Throughout the latter part of the 19th century and the early 20th century Wells-Barnett worked tirelessly against the evils of postbellum American society. She battled against Jim Crow, the politics of anti-feminism, the horrors of lynching and the evils of racism. Moreover, she was very active in organizing the National Association of the Advancement of Color People (NAACP), as well as the Black Women’s Club Movement. In addition, she also astutely addressed issues of Black male chauvinism which seemed to run rampant through many of the movements and organizations of her time. She fought for freedom on all fronts, not just against white supremacy, but also against male chauvinism and sexism of her time. This essay will discuss the dynamic nature of Wells-Barnett’s leadership as well as he role in laying the foundation for protest and struggle for the 20th century.
Wells-Barnett was born into slavery in Hollins Springs, Mississippi to James Wells and Lizzie Warrenton. Her father, who was enslaved in Mississippi, was a talented carpenter whose skills were often hired out by his enslaver throughout the region. Lizzie’s life, on the other hand, was a bit more difficult under enslavement in Virginia. Her and her family were sold away to different enslavers throughout the South, making her part of the one of millions of displaced and broken Black families. Nevertheless, despite the problems created by the peculiar institution Wells-Barnett’s parents did well for themselves after emancipation. Lizzie became a famous and accomplished chef while James founded a successful carpentry business as well as he was named a trustee of Shaw College, what would be named Rust College one of the oldest Historical Black Colleges in the country. James was also a ‘race man’, fighting for the advancement of African Americans throughout the South. Wells-Barnett was deeply influenced by the lives and efforts of her parents and by extension made it her mission to do as her parents did: to fight for the freedoms of her people.
Wells-Barnett was one of eight children born to Lizzie and James. Unfortunately, her parents and one of her siblings were claimed by the yellow fever epidemic of the late 19th century. Wells-Barnett was able to avoid the affliction because she was away at Shaw College. After her parents and sibling were buried, social services of the time threatened to separate her family because she did not have the capacity to take care of all of them by herself. However, she and her siblings moved to Holly Springs with their grandmother (Peggy Wells) in order to keep their family together and allow Wells-Barnett to continue with her studies. While earning her education she also taught elementary school to help make ends meet and to keep her family from be swallowed up by poverty. Wells-Barnett came from very strong and considerably affluent Southern roots, but she saw first-hand the devastation of poverty and racism reflected in her family and community and appropriately used that energy to become one of the most powerful and uncompromising voices in the African American freedom struggle.
Religiously, saying nothing about her personal beliefs, Wells-Barnett did not rely on the church or notions of God to solve the problems of the Black community. She believed the issues that plagued African Americans took more than simple prayer to remedy. To be clear, Wells-Barnett understood that the best way to deal with American racial oppression was head on, aggressively and without compromise. One of her most famous quotes - “a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home.” - clearly tells of her resolve. Wells-Barnett was not shy about her understanding that violence must be met with violence and he felt that Black people had the God-given right to defend themselves against tyranny and oppression, which was reflected clearly in her speeches and writings.
For some, her ideas and philosophies were a bit radical. That is to say, Wells-Barnett had little interest appeasing those of the “talented-tenth”. She constantly quarreled with leaders and influencers who seemed to be more interested in pacifying whites for career advancements. Though she herself had little interest in kowtowing to Whites and stroking their cultural egos, but she was not above using them for her own gains. Scholar Thomas C. Holt argued that “Wells-Barnett saw ruling-class whites as the key to social change. But she was less concerned about gaining their favor than with manipulating their self-interest.” To elaborate, Wells-Barnett often made it a point to hit the ruling class in their pockets, reminding them that their real interest was in money. She did this in a number of ways. For example, she argued that boycotts were useful in demonstrating that having segregated rail cars was bad for the bottom line of railroad corporations, which would also have an adverse effect for big money investors of the corporations. Similar tactics were used during the Civil Rights Movement some fifty years later under the guidance of Martin Luther King Jr.
Wells-Barnett had a habit of rubbing her detractors and rivals the wrong way in large part because she was uncompromising in her approach while many of her contemporaries were willing to acquiesce for position and/or status. To elaborate, her perspective on lynchings in the South directly went for the jugular of the problem. That is, she believed and argued vehemently that white women were rarely the victim of raping by brutal Black men and were more often willing participants in white women’s desires for the forbidden fruit of the sexual prowess of Black men. Holt elaborates “while black men have betrayed weakness and stupidity in contracting such alliances, the women were very often willing participants.” Despite the astute and correct nature of her argument she was asked by many on her side of the isle to soften her attack on this hypocrisy. She refused. And as a result she was shunned, ostracized and even booed public talks. It is not clear exactly why notable African Americans of her time asked her to not address this issue as aggressively, except for fear of angering their white supporter and financiers. Nonetheless, this issue was likely the reason why she was ostracized by Black scholars and elites of the time period.
Because of her unwillingness to acquiesce to white supremacy and its violent contradictions many turned their back on Wells-Barnett. Holt argues that “The most persistent themes in Wells-Barnett’s memoir are the loneliness of her struggle and the ingratitude of her people.” To elaborate, Wells-Barnett’s aggressive and uncompromising approach against white supremacy made her more enemies in the freedom movement than friends. For example, Booker T. Washington seemed to almost forgive the atrocities of white supremacy by rarely addressing the problem of lynching at all. While she was clear about her disdain for Washington and his methods, she felt she still had an ally in W.E.B. DuBois and the Niagara Movement which she helped to found. However, she was eventually and similarly ostracized by DuBois as well who distanced himself for her and her work the more he became involved in the NAACP. This is not to say that DuBois and the NAACP were not concerned about the lynching of Black people, because the historical record is clear that that was not the case. However, this is to say that her approach was perhaps a bit too aggressive for DuBois and his white allies who did their best to work within the established system to address the horrors faced by the Black community while simultaneously ensuring that white people were comfortable. It is very possible, even probable, that DuBois was asked to distance himself from her work because it made white supporters of the NAACP uncomfortable, but there is nothing substantive to that assertion, only speculation. Nonetheless, Wells-Barnett had no interest in making white people or their allies comfortable, especially when the lynching of Black people was such a huge problem in America.
Next to Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells-Barnett may have been the most impactful leader of the Black freedom struggle in America. Her understanding of the dynamics and inner workings of white supremacy provided a very sober understanding of the problems facing Black America. In addition, her fearless uncompromising attack of it made her a force to be reckoned with. Moreover, she was equally fearsome in her attack of patriarchy within the ranks of the Black freedom struggle, demonstrating early the interconnectedness of oppression. She saw the heart of oppression and stabbed at it with her wit and tireless work ethic, laying down and important legacy for us all to follow.
 Paula J. Giddings. Ida: A Sword Among Lions: Ida B. Wells and the Campaign Against Lynching (Reprint ed.). (Amistad, March 2009), 5-10.
 Patti Carr Black. “Ida B. Wells: A Courageous Voice for Civil Rights”. Mississippi History Now. Retrieved (February 2019).
 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds. Black leaders of the twentieth century. Vol. 82. (University of Illinois Press, 1982), 45.
 Wells-Barnett, Ida B., and Henry Louis Jr Gates. Selected Works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett. Oxford University Press on Demand, 1991.
 John Hope Franklin and August Meier, eds. Black leaders of the twentieth century. Vol. 82. (University of Illinois Press, 1982), 45.
 Ibid., 46.
 Ibid., 58.
 Ibid., 49-50.
Profiles in Africana Religion – Part 29: African Women’s Club Movement, A Global Effort of Black Women
The Black Women’s Club Movement of the United States was a powerful effort on the part of the first generation of free Black women in America who organized themselves into self-help organizations meant to address the ills and pitfalls of freedom in America. This movement brought together Black women from all walks of life: the formerly enslaved, first generation free-born, entrepreneurs, teachers and spiritual leaders. Furthermore, this movement paved the way for a number of groups and organizations which were extremely impactful across the oceans of space and time; meaning, the impact of the Black Women’s Club Movement had far reaching implications for black women in the Caribbean, the continent of Africa and throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. This essay will review and discuss the impact of the Black Women’s Club Movement across space and time in order to demonstrate the far-reaching implications of Black women’s involvement in the progression of African people throughout the world.
The organization of Black women self-help groups dates back to the 18th century with the development of the Female Benevolent Society of St. Thomas. This group was founded in 1793 in Philadelphia, a city well known for sustaining an African population that understood the necessity as well as rigors of freedom. It was relatively common for African Americans to organize themselves in the North into self-help groups in order to battle the racism and discrimination as well as to bring attention to the traumas of enslavement. In addition, most self-help organizations were centered in the North because any type of collective movement in the South was seen as a threat to the slavocracy and mercilessly struck down. African Americans in the North had this to their advantage, but that is all they had.
During the antebellum period of the 19th century, in 1818, an African American religious self-help group was organized in Massachusetts called the Colored Female Religious and Moral Society. It was in many ways the first of its kind, but by no means the last. Throughout the 19th century, many organizations popped up in throughout the North with similar eyes set on freeing black people from ignorance, immorality as well as injustice and servitude. However, the major push for these organizations and movements came between 1880 and 1920. During this time, many prominent African American women were deeply involved in founding, organizing and developing movements that would shape the coming century of civil discourse. Moreover, the Black Women’s Club Movement was represented in a number of fashions. Meaning, there were civic organizations, political and economic movements, religious and cultural groups, and collegiate as well as esoteric guilds. The diversity of these organizations was made clear in their outlook and approach. That is to say, religious organizations centered on piety and devotion to God, while civic movements were centered on securing human rights for African Americans. Whatever the specific outlook of a particular group’s approach, there was one goal: uplifting the race.
Now despite this commonality, there has always been the accusation the powerful people within these organizations see themselves as better than those on the outside. That is, prosperity begets privilege, even for those on the bottom rung of society. Moreover, ideas such as W.E.B. DuBois’ philosophy of the “talented tenth”, seemed to promote a “trickle-down” posture in the Black community. The idea behind this philosophy is simple and not completely without merit, but flawed nonetheless. To explain, DuBois’ idea (shared by many in the Black Women’s Club Movement) argues that the top ten percent of the African American population, that is the richest, most educated and most successful individuals and/or families, should pave the way for the rest of the race by opening doors and creating opportunities. The problem with this “trickle-down” approach is that it has the potential to become nepotistic and rigid, where the privileged ten percent gain and maintain a sense of power over the rest and do very little to help those on the bottom to reach a more privileged position.
Along with the problem of elitism, there has always been the issue of anti-radicalism that centers around the talented-tenth. That is to say, many of the elites work with the idea that the people should maneuver within the established means of progress and not “rock the boat”, so to say. Because of this, some thinkers of the early 20th century, such as Marcus Garvey, were ostracized and labeled problematic deviants, rather than have their ideas, philosophies and strategies taken seriously. By extension, this also, means that many radical women were silenced as well. This is not to say, that good wasn’t done or that women did not have a voice, because through the Club Movement they made their own voice. To support, Nina Mjagkji author of Organizing Black America argues: “In addition to their work in the lodges, African American women also found an outlet for community activism in the women’s club movement, especially during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Between 1880 and 1920, Indianapolis’s black club women created more than five hundred clubs that addressed a wide range of social welfare issues and laid the foundation for political activism.” This passage uses Indianapolis as an example, however this is just one urban example. The work of the Black Women’s Club Movement was relatively wide-spread and extremely impactful across both space and time.
The critical role of Black women in America and throughout the world did not by any means begin with the Club Movement, however, this point in history accentuated the valor, courage and intelligence that Black Women have brought to the freedom struggle. Likewise, the role of religion has been critically important, but without the pillars (Black Women) of those communities all institutions, religious or otherwise are nothing. What the Black Women’s Club Movement did, was set the tone for activism for the 20th century and beyond. Today the daughters, grand-daughters and great grand-daughters of the Black Women’s Club Era move and shake with a certain ferocity that is to be marveled at. For instance, in St. Louis and Baltimore Black women lead the way as communities began to rise up against police brutality. As well Black Women have been at the forefront of both the #BlackLivesMatter and #HandsUpDontShoot hashtags which shed light on the brutality being suffered by African Americans in varying communities throughout the country. The Black Women’s Club Movement paved the way for the dynamic movements of our present day, as well the philosophies and strategies of that era continue to guide us.
 Robert L. Harris. "Early Black Benevolent Societies, 1780-1830." The Massachusetts Review 20, no. 3 (1979): 605. www.jstor.org/stable/25088988. See. AME Church, Richard Allen and Absolom Jones.
 Anne Firor Scott. "Most Invisible of All: Black Women's Voluntary Associations". The Journal of Southern History. 56 (1): 6.
 Nina Mjagki. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235. “Building coalitions across class and gender lines, black club women founded organizations such as the Norwood Citizens League (1906), which sought “to better conditions morally in the suburbs,” and the Woman’s Civic Club (1907), which emerged from the Idle Hands Needle Club, a late-nineteenth-century black women’s philanthropic association whose purpose was to provide winter fuel, food, and clothes for the city’s poor neighborhoods.”
 Leon Litwack and August Meier. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 1991). Throughout this text, the Black Women’s Club Movement is referenced many times throughout the surveyed discourse on Harriet Tubman and Mary Church Terrell. Dorothy Sterling. We are Your Sisters: Black Women in the Nineteenth Century. (Revised ed.). (W. W. Norton & Company, 1997).
 Nina Mjagki. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235. Examples: the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (some chapters started out as women’s group), the Order of Eastern Star, as well as a number of collegiate sororities such as Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta.
 Some may say, this is especially the case for those on the bottom, i.e., crabs in a barrel.
 William Edward Burghardt DuBois. The Talented Tenth. New York, NY: James Pott and Company, 1903.
 Joy James. Transcending the Talented Tenth: Black leaders and American intellectuals. (Routledge, 2014).
 Healy-Clancy, Meghan. "The Daughters of Africa and Transatlantic Racial Kinship: Cecilia Lilian Tshabalala and the Women's Club Movement, 1912-1943." Amerikastudien/American Studies (2014): 481-499.
 Nina Mjagkji. Organizing Black America: An Encyclopedia of African American Associations. (Routledge, 2003), 235.
The latter half of the 19th century was a time of great change in the United States. The country was in great flux as different populations of people worked to carve out space for themselves in a national as well as global context. Out of this great flux, Black women stormed through the barriers of racism and sexism with power, grace and distinction. One of most important instruments in this effort to forge ahead, were self-help clubs and organizations. Discussed briefly the last couple of installments, the Black Women’s Club Movement was one of the most progressive and impactful movements in US history. Through the many clubs that were formed during this era, Black women attacked issues of racism, sexism, poverty, education, economics and socio-political empowerment simultaneously. One of the most important figures in this movement is Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, a woman who had her finger on the pulse of postbellum American society.
Ruffin was born in Boston, Massachusetts to John St. Pierre and Elizabeth Mathilda Menhenick in 1834. In Boston as a youth, Ruffin lived and attended school in Salem and Charlestown which at the time were segregated parts of Boston. It is true that the North was not as immersed in the slavocracy as the South was, but that did not mean that white people of those areas were immune to racial bigotry and hatred. Given this, Ruffin’s parents were not willing to allow their children to suffer the system of segregation, so they sent their daughter to New York City to complete her education. Segregation in Northern schools depended largely on where a person was, New York for instance was more liberal than Boston, though they are both Northern cities. However, in Boston around 1855, there was a movement led by African Americans in the city to have public schools desegregated. This movement did have a measure of success, in that by the end of the year public schools in Boston were desegregated for Black children. As a result, Ruffin moved back to Boston to attend and complete her education at the Bowdain School.
By modern standards, Ruffin married at a young age - 16 - however, her and her husband, George Lewis Ruffin were very active in Boston City politics. Where Josephine and her husband were most active and impactful was in the struggle against the institution of slavery. In particular, the Ruffins were strong advocates of Black Union soldiers, particularly for the 54th and 55th Massachusetts Regiments. As well, after the war, they helped displaced African Americans coming out of the South’s slavocracy to get settled in their new lives working with the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association. In addition, collectively the Ruffins were very impactful during and after the Civil War in being tireless and uncompromising advocates for African American Union soldiers and new Freedmen. Where Josephine was most impactful was through her involvement in the Women’s Suffrage and Black Women’s Club Movement. To elaborate, in 1869, Ruffin worked with Julia Ward Howe and Lucy Stone to development the American Women’s Suffrage Association. As a talented writer Ruffin also joined the New England Women’s Press Association where she was able write about issues that impacted both African Americans and women. In 1894 she organized a Black Women’s advocacy group called the Women’s Era Club with her daughter Florida Riley. And the following year she organization the National Federation of Afro-American Women and the first Conference of the Colored Women of America in her home city of Boston.
Though religion had its place, the Black Women’s Club Movement was not an exclusively religious movement, however it grew out of self-help groups that were many times church or faith based. In particular, Protestant Christianity, was a critical element of most community groups and organizations of the late 19th century. But the movement in general was not meant to simply be religious based, the focus instead was on the collective efforts from people of diverse back grounds. Meaning, regardless of the religious background, color or gender of those involved, the Black Women’s Club Movement understood its struggle as important for development of humanity in a very general and collective sense. Ruffing elaborates: “Our women’s movement is woman’s movement in that it is led and directed by women for the good of women and men, for the benefit of all humanity, which is more than any one branch or section of it. We want, we ask the active interest of our men, and, too, we are not drawing the color line; we are women, American women, as intensely interested in all that pertains to us as such as all other American women: we are not alienating or withdrawing, we are only coming to the front, willing to join any others in the same work and cordially inviting and welcoming any others to join us.” The struggle for freedom was/is a struggle for all Americans, and the unique perspective of Black women was/is critically important as they have been at the bottom of American society.
To this point Ruffin has often been overlooked in this conversation because she worked very closely with white women, a group that has historically been at the center of the oppression of African American people. To be clear, this critique is not unfounded, white women often paraded Black women as representatives of their movements, but ignored the problems that were unique to the Black community. Moreover, white women refused to acknowledge and address the problem of white men terrorizing Black communities to protect white womanhood. White supremacy’s greatest catalyst has always been and remains the defense white women from the scourge of Black men. However, Ruffin, perhaps to her detriment as a community leader, worked to bring communities together, without addressing the historical inequities. She states: “We need to feel the cheer and inspiration of meeting each other, we need to gain the courage and fresh life that comes from the mingling of congenial souls, of those working for the same ends.” It must be said, that her ideals in this regard were noble. But the critique of her approach also has merit. White women, have historically had the horrendous habit of weaponizing their whiteness, and if our communities are to find any semblance of peace and cohesion, this will have to be addressed. Nevertheless, Ruffin is not wrong in attempting to find common ground for which opposing communities could come to the same table to address the country’s social ills. In this, our struggle continues.
 Miletsky, Zebulon Vance. “Before Busing: Boston’s Long Movement for Civil Rights and the Legacy of Jim Crow in the “Cradle of Liberty”.” Journal of Urban History 43, no. 2 (2017): 207.
 Darryl Lyman. (2005). "Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin". Great African-American Women (third ed.). Middle Village, NY: Jonathan David Company. pp. 196–197. Holden, Teresa Blue. “Earnest women can do anything”: The public career of Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, 1842–1904. Saint Louis University, 2005.
 Verner Mitchell and Cynthia Davis. Literary Sisters: Dorothy West and Her Circle, A Biography of the Harlem Renaissance. Rutgers University Press. (2011), 88-90.
 State House Women's Leadership Project (2008). "Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin". Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities.
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/kansas-freedmans-relief-association-1879-1881/. Accessed October 2019. “In response to the mass exodus from the south in 1879 and 1880, Kansas Governor and Quaker John St. John established the Kansas Freedman’s Relief Association (KFRA). The Association was created in 1879 to “aid destitute freedmen, refugees and immigrants” who were migrating to Kansas.” Accessed October 2019.
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/ruffin-josephine-st-pierre-1842-1924/. Accessed October 2019. “During the civil war, the Ruffins were involved in various charity works, civil rights causes, and Mrs. Ruffin, especially, was involved in the women’s suffrage movement where she worked with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.”
 Anthony W. Neal. “Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin: A Pioneer in the Black Women’s Club Movement. The Bay State Banner. (2016).
 Black Past. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/1895-josephine-st-pierre-ruffin-address-first-national-conference-colored-women/. Accessed October 2019.
 Gerda Lerner. "Early community work of Black club women." The Journal of Negro History 59, no. 2 (1974): 158-167.
 AZ Quotes. https://www.azquotes.com/author/24470-Josephine_St_Pierre_Ruffin. Accessed October 2019.
As the 19th century unfolded a different population of African Americans were born into the world. This population would be born in the South but not experience the South in its full oppressive glory. That is to say, there was a new emerging population of millions of African Americans who were to be born in the South but would be born free. Mary Church Terrell is one such individual, born free in the South, during the Civil War. Though the Emancipation Proclamation had not yet been signed upon her birth (1863), by the time she was mastering the ability to walk and talk the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments had been signed and put into law. Terrell would be born free to free parents and raised free, knowing little of the horrors her parents endured. She instead would have navigate through different and evolving world and have to deal with an entirely new set of difficulties and dangers in white America.
Terrell was born in Memphis, Tennessee; her mother, Louisa Ayers Church, was born free but her father, Robert Reed Church, was born into bondage but was later freed well before the birth of his daughter. The Church family were relatively well off, Louisa was popular dress maker and property owner in Memphis, and Robert was self-educated and did well with real estate in the city making him one of the most successful Black business men in the country. However, being Black and successful does not grant an immunity to the pitfalls of white supremacy. Throughout Terrell’s early life she saw and experienced the costs of being Black in America despite her family having a generous measure of financial success. Nonetheless, no matter how well-off they were, they were still Black in the very hostile American South during the postbellum period, a period in which the country saw the growth of white terrorism with the founding of the Ku Klux Klan.
Terrell’s education went through Oberlin College where she studied the Classics. At Oberlin, she excelled as a writer and as a leader. During this time period women were only expected to complete two-years of college, however Terrell completed what was referred to as the “gentlemen’s path” which was simply a full four years of college. In college, she was very active among the student body. She was not shy in addressing issues relevant to race and gender. For example, “in one college paper she urges women to devote some time to their own self-culture and study rather than permit ‘household cares’ to absorb their minds. This line of thinking, popular among late-nineteenth-century women reformers, was the basis for the formation of hundreds of women’s self-culture and reading clubs.” She also, continued her graduate work at Oberlin, completing a degree in Education. Education was extremely important for her, believing it the only way for African Americans in general and African American women in particular to truly progress in American society. Eventually, because of this dynamic and her tireless work, Terrell was elected to the District of Columbia Board of Education where she was able to service African Americans of the capital district.
As Terrell grew as an activist she spoke often at women’s conferences and conventions. As such, she worked closely with white women in the suffrage movement and the National American Women’s Suffrage Association (NAWSA). Susan B. Anthony was one personality in particular that Terrell found a measure of cohesion. The NAWSA was primarily focused on the problems of White women, however driven Black women such as Terrell and Sojourner Truth made it their business to bring the issues of Black women particularly and African Americans in general to the table. But, the organization was not interested in directly addressing the issues of Black people or Black women evidenced by the fact that Black women were not allowed to organized their own wing of the NAWSA, though it was more than happy use the voices as Black women to further their own cause. Be that as it may, Terrell and her cultural contemporaries were not to be denied. They used their platform to speak on the need for unity amongst African Americans and the importance of elevating the voices of women in the struggle for freedom.
Being denied philosophical space in the NAMSA lead to the formation of the Color Women’s League founded by Terrell, Helen Appo Cook, Ida B. Bailey, Anna Julie Cooper, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Mary Jane Peterson and Evelyn Shaw. The organization of Black Women in the Color Women’s League was one of the more important steps in the Black women Club Movement, a movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century that sought to address the social ills of African Americans through the development of self-help programs and organizations. Further, the Black Women’s Club Movement was primarily focused on the upliftment of the race, not just through self-help but as well by attacking the racial plagues of the era such as segregation and lynching. However, one of the major differences between the Black women’s club movement and white women’s suffrage movement was an emphasis on male involvement and cooperation. In the DC area in particular, “their efforts to inform the public about the moral and social progress of the black race, the members of this pioneering women’s group initiated a number of practical measures to benefit the Washington black community, ranging from an evening school for adults to mothers’ meetings and day nurseries for the children with working mothers.” Across the board, the Black women’s movement was meant to be more community based rather than simply gender based, Black families were to work together to deal with social ills, it was not all on the women.
Though it is clear that Terrell understood the dynamics of race and racism in America, she was still focused on classism as an important issue. To elaborate, with the emancipation of enslaved Africans came a class consciousness that would prove to be both uplifting and problematic in the coming decades. The divide being developed between the black upper and lower class, as a product of freedom, would become a barrier to those still scratching and surviving in America’s underbelly. Harley elaborates, “Despite the progressive views expressed throughout her active public life, Terrell epitomized black upper-middle-class leadership and seldom appeared among the black masses except in church gatherings.”As well, there was a particular alliance (or reliance) on Victorianism as a philosophy to be embraced as African Americans attempted to blend in to the larger American society. This approach was very problematic for many African Americans who had no interesting in embracing European social ethics but were instead looking for philosophies that were more culturally relevant.
It is no exaggeration that Terrell’s legacy helped to lay the foundation for social activism in the 20th century. For one, she helped to set the stage for African American Feminist/Womanist discussion in an international setting. As well, with Ida B. Wells she was one of the first women to organize and call for the meetings that would become the foundation for the National Association for the Advancement of Color People (NAACP). In addition, during the early part of the 20th century, African Americans were organizing themselves not only into community and self-help organization but in fraternal organizations as well. As such, she helped to develop Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated, a college based African American women only organization centered on mutual support and community service. Throughout her life, Terrell was deeply involvement in all aspects of African American political and social life, helping to lay the groundwork for how the rights of African Americans and women would be discussed in the 20th century.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 307.
 Her attendance of Oberlin College was historic in that she was the first African American woman to attend the institution.
 It also should be noted that she graduated with Anna Julia Cooper and Ida Gibbs Hunt, who themselves are giants in their fields.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 308.
 Ibid., 316.
 Mary Church Terrell. A Colored Woman In A White World. (Washington, D.C: Humanity Books, 1940), 185.
 Paula Giddings. When and Where I Enter: The Impact of Black Women on Race and Sex in America. (New York: William Morrow and Company, INC., 1984), 127.
 Smith, Jessie Carney. "Josephine Beall Bruce". Notable Black American women (v1 ed.). (Gale Research Inc., 1992), 123.
 Sharon Harley. “Mary Church Terrell: Genteel Militant.” Leon Litwack and August Meier, eds. Black Leaders of the Nineteenth Century. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1988), 311.
 Ibid., 320.
 This point will become more apparent in the early part of the 20th century.
To be enslaved is to be property; to have no control over one’s well-being, life or destiny. A truly terrible fate for any human. However, when the enslaved are freed (or free themselves) they become something different both in circumstance and identity. Many emancipated Africans changed their names to forget or move on from their past, but some changed their name to redefine their very destiny. Isabella Baumfree as enslaved person had a particular relationship with the world, however, when she took her destiny into her own hands and liberated herself, she became Sojourner Truth. Truth changed her name as a way to shape and direct her destiny. Furthermore, as Truth, she not only worked tirelessly for the emancipation of African people but for women as well.
Baumfree was born at the end of the 18th century in upstate New York (Swartekill, in Ulster County New York), she was one of twelve children born to James and Elizabeth Baumfree. For the most part, her family was kept together despite being enslaved until their captor Colonel Charles Hardenbergh passed away. When Hardenbergh died, his property (i.e., the Baumfree family) were all separated and sold off. Isabella (or Belle) was sold and resold a number of times throughout her adolescent years into her 20s. Over this time she also had a number of children. Most of her children were born of love, however, she did had one child that was the result of rape. When Belle eventually found freedom, she, as a liberated person, chose to change her identity, by extension this courageous act also changed her destiny. As a free and autonomous woman she chose to be Methodist in order to use the word of God against the peculiar institution of America - slavery. She claimed to have been touched by God, to have received a charge from the creator that required her to stand up against enslavement and oppression. To fulfill that charge she needed a fitting name that would define her destiny, for her the name “Sojourner Truth” fit her destiny quite neatly.
Religiously, Truth, like her peers, was a child of the 2nd Great Awakening. This period in American religious life and history was a very deliberate break from the Enlightenment period in that there was a focus on the supernatural and the movement of God in the world rather than submitting to rigid logic. In addition, this period in American religious history is critically important in that it is an era that saw the philosophical attempt to solidify America as a Christian nation. As well, it is a period in which the presence and power of women in American religion (and in society in general) gained important traction. In fact, this period represents the feminization of American religion. That is to say, that during this period women took more leadership positions in civil and religious organizations, they led worship and spoke publicly to large audiences, something unheard of in generations past. Truth’s presence was critically important in this movement and moment. She was invited to give talks all over the eastern seaboard and other parts of the American North, precisely because of her unique position as a formerly enslaved African American woman. To elucidate, perhaps one of the most intersectional and therefore impactful speeches Truth made was her famous speech: “Ain’t I A Woman?”. This speech was critically important specifically because it addressed the problem of intersectionality well before “intersectionality” was a thing to be seriously considered. Intersectionality of course, refers to the multiple social concerns that can and do impact particular groups of people. Truth as one who was helping to shape the future of social discourse, astutely reminded her readers and audiences that she, like many other women of African descent, had to deal with not only racism, but problems of sexism as well.
Further, this problem of sexism that Truth dealt with was not just centered on white men, it was meant to address the issues she dealt with in her experiences with Black men as well. Men across the color-line have and continue to show hostility to the presence of women. However, what is most telling about the problem of sexism (as well of racism) is that it gets its strength from religion. That is to say, religion was used to justify any and all forms of social restrictions. Men (and women) see God and Jesus, both male figures, as the examples of righteousness, while the presence and impact of woman is often marginalized and discounted, if not outright vilified. However, Truth bravely addressed this issue openly and often, challenging both men and women to rethink their social position. To illustrate, one particular day when Truth was being heckled by a man, she astutely stated: “Then that little man in black there, he says women can't have as much rights as men, 'cause Christ wasn't a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” Truth’s social and political “clap-back” was strong, she spoke truth to power unapologetically and had a keen understanding of the contradictory dynamics of American life.
Truth was Black and a Woman equally. Meaning, she did not see a difference in the enslavement of African Americans and the subjugation of women, both were equally offensive and problematic. Accordingly, whenever she spoke publicly about the problem of enslavement, she would address issues relevant to women-folk. Connecting these issues was a brilliant tactic because she could easily draw parallels of the conditions of African Americans and women. Further, Truth did not simply direct her attention to just white men, instead, she constantly reminded Black man that just being a male was not enough to assume power over women. When addressing this issue, she stated: “You have been having our rights so long, that you think, like a slave-holder, that you own us. I know that it is hard for one who has held the reins for so long to give up; it cuts like a knife. It will feel all the better when it closes up again.” She wanted to crush the notion that women were less-than for both white and black men, she refused subservience in all its forms.
Not only that, but she believed that the freedom of women was critical to the freedom of the entirety of humanity, and she used religion, well specifically Christianity, to push that notion. In one instance she states: “If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them.” Truth is of course referring to Eve. Knowing that Eve has a precarious position in Biblical history because of her run in with the serpent, she leans into that stigma reminding audiences of the power of women. Conversely, she also is quick to remind folks that the One the worship so fervently, Jesus, came through a feminine vessel. Truth argues: “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him.” For the sexism that seems to be rampant in Christianity these not-so-subtle reminders are important for both men and women regardless of race or culture. Specifically, both men and women need to be reminded of a necessary balance that must exist between the sexes in order to secure any sort of substantive future for humanity.
The culmination of Truth’s work however is a keen understanding of balance. Balance in terms of the struggle that continues between Blacks and Whites as well as that between men and women. However, her most important gift to humanity is her appeal to the balance of human needs and belief. Truth believed that humanness – that essential stuff that make humanity unique – needed to coexist with religious belief, she states: “Religion without humanity is very poor human stuff.” I believe this sentence is a direct indictment of all forms of oppression whether they be racist or sexist. Having a belief system is all well-and-good, but to have any belief system without maintaining the needs of humanity - food, clothing, shelter and love - is a dead religion. Truth believed humanity was better than that because she believed better of herself. She always knew she was more than a slave and she always believed women were more that what they were told, she believed this because she understood her power both as a woman and as an African American.
 Margaret Washington. Sojourner Truth's America. University of Illinois Press, 2011,32-50.
 Barbara Welter, "The Feminization of American Religion: 1800–1860," in Clio's Consciousness Raised, edited by Mary S. Hartman and Lois Banner. (New York: Octagon Books, 1976), 141.
 Nell Irvin Painter. Sojourner Truth: A life, a symbol. (WW Norton & Company, 1996).
 https://www.goodreads.com/author/quotes/200277.Sojourner_Truth. Accessed August 2019.
 20 Sojourner Truth Quotes: Honoring the Fight for Equality. https://everydaypower.com/sojourner-truth-quotes/. Accessed August 2019.
For those who have fought for freedom in the Americas there seems to be common spiritual charge – to liberate God’s chosen people. That is to say, in the effort of African people seeking liberation the Gods are often called to aid oppressed Africans. Whether they be Gods from the continent of Africa or the Gods of the colonizers, one does not push for freedom until they received a divine blessing. However, there is a caveat to this issue, those asking for this blessing must put in the necessary effort, one cannot simply request and recline assuming the desire will be fulfilled without effort. It is all about the effort - the action taken to bring a prayer to reality. In American history there is one individual who put in maximum effort towards her own freedom, the liberation her people and the abolition of a nefarious system of oppression, that individual is Harriet Tubman.
For many African Americans, Tubman herself is a religious icon. She is the one who delivered scores of souls to the promised land. In many respects she has been deified as Moses - the one who led the children of Israel out of bondage and out of Pharoah’s land. Such a messianic presence forces a mythos. Myths, such as her freeing over three hundred enslaved Africans from bondage. Evidence suggest she only freed about 70 individuals, but the point I think is clear: She was made into this messianic figure because of the deep yearning for freedom within the hearts of the enslaved and oppressed. Enslaved Africans were never docile nor completely accepting of their plight. Continuously and constantly, we are presented with evidence to this fact, in the names of individuals, like Nat Turner, Richard Allen and the Queens of FireBurn, who have been raised to Godly status because they fought for freedom. Tubman is their Queen Mother, the most shining example of rebellion in the African American experience and herself an icon of freedom.
Essentially, Tubman, within African American historical imagery, is a deity. It is a well-earned reputation. Though she did not free 300 individuals, the numbers she did free including herself is not to be taken lightly. Moreover, she fought in the Union Army both on the front lines and as a spy and lived to tell her tales well into old age. She is deserving of all that makes her larger than life, her memory and her name will remain sacred for centuries. Such an effort to deify forces concerns about what humans value morally, or maybe just what African American value: courage, strength and freedom. Despite her divine efforts, Tubman was a religious person herself, and as a person of deep religious convictions, she clung to her beliefs on what she knew was a very dangerous road. For her, her trust and belief in God (or “de Lord” as she often refers) functions a guide for her personal moral ethos. “De Lord” for her is a protector, and one for whom freedom is also important. Moreover, “de Lord” calls for her to be active in the liberation of others whom are in bondage. Furthermore, Tubman’s deity is not a passive observer of the torment of the enslaved, but this deity does demand action. Tubman freed herself, she did not wait for de Lord to open any doors that she was not already kicking down. This is a critically important quality of her belief, like King decades later, she was not a passive Christian and did not believe in passive God. Her belief was reciprocal in nature, as it shaped her, she shaped it through her actions, efforts and words. Her struggle for freedom is essentially her gospel to the world.
She found others just like her as well. That is to say, one of the things that made the Underground Railroad the success it was, were the white allies. This is not to take anything away from African people seeking and gaining their own autonomy, however white allies must be acknowledged. Particularly in Tubman’s experience, the Quakers were one religious community that could be counted on in the fight for freedom. She is quoted as saying: “Quakers almost as good as colored. They call themselves friends and you can trust them every time.” Though she was only echoing the already well known anti-slavery position of the Quakers, her remarks make it clear that she believed in the righteousness of the efforts of colored people fighting for freedom and the righteousness of their white allies.
Coupled with the deification of Tubman, freedom in general carries with it powerful religious overtones. For instance, the enslavers during this period were described as Pharoah, a clear connection to the story of the captivity of the Biblical Israelites. As well, freedom or “the North” was seen as the promised land, again connect the plight of enslaved Africans to the stories of the Israelites in Egypt. An example:
I’ll meet you in the morning
when you reach the promised land
on the other side of the Jordan
for I’m bound for the promised land.
Of course, the institution of slavery itself also carried religious weight, for the enslavers. Not only were Bible verses used to reinforce the philosophy of the enslavers, but the ships used to carry human cargo sometimes had Biblical names. As well, enslavers were also supported and sponsored by churches, both Catholic and Protestant. So, on both sides of the figurative isle the name of God was being invoked for extremely contradictory reasons.
As a Christian, Tubman stayed focus on God’s work – freeing her people from bondage. Also, as a Christian she believed that the enslavers could be converted. To her, the enslavers were clearly living outside of the mandate and promise of God that she understood, so she would pray for her captors to have a change of heart, she recounts: “As I lay so sick on my bed, from Christmas till March, I was always praying for poor ole master. 'Pears like I didn't do nothing but pray for ole master. 'Oh, Lord, convert ole master;' 'Oh, dear Lord, change dat man's heart, and make him a Christian.' For Tubman, enslavers were not living right with God and needed a revival of the heart. Moreover, in Tubman’s view, a righteous Christian did not enslave their brothers and sisters, regardless of color. This seemingly odd contradictory dynamic was and is quite common for African Americans and European Americans, that is, enslaved (oppressed) Africans often seemed more Christian that the enslavers, wanting only be free as God intended while enslavers used the Bible to reinforce oppression.
Tubman was not a deity, despite her deification, she was simply a woman who fought for what she knew was right. But, perhaps therein lies the issue – when freedom is or becomes something sacred, champions of freedom will be raised to the level of Gods and Goddesses. Tubman charged into battle believing herself divinely driven and inspired, but that did not mean she did not have to do the hard work. Tubman knew the road towards freedom would be arduous, yet she walked it fearlessly. Her walk, she believed, followed a divine track that demanded freedom. For her, it was God himself, whom wanted the enslaved set free, Tubman was just the best tool for the job. Therefore, as a tool of the divine, she was the Sword of Michael, cutting paths towards freedom that no man was able to stop.
 Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People -http://www.harriet-tubman.org/moses-underground-railroad/. Accessed July 2019. She was even given the nickname “Moses” by William Lloyd Garrison.
 Washington Post - https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/five-myths-about-harriet-tubman/2016/04/22/b9f3a270-07f0-11e6-b283-e79d81c63c1b_story.html?utm_term=.c7ccca284525. Accessed July 2019.
 Carole Boston Weatherford, and Kadir Nelson. Moses: When Harriet Tubman led her people to freedom. Hyperion Books for Children, 2006.
 Harriet Tubman - https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/harriet_tubman. Accessed July 2019. “I said to de Lord, 'I'm goin' to hold steady on to you, an' I know you'll see me through.'”
 The word “community” could be italicized to emphasize the fact that the Quakers were known as allies, where as other Christian communities were hit-and-miss based on individual moral persuasion.
 Harriet Tubman - https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/harriet_tubman. Accessed July 2019.
 The River Jordan in Early African American Spirituals by Daniel L. Smith-Christopher - https://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/places/related-articles/river-jordan-in-early-african-american-spirituals. Accessed July 2019.
 Karl Reinhardt (1949). "Die Karacke Jesus von Lübeck". Zeitschrift für Lübeckische Geschichte und Altertumskunde (in German). (1959), 79–110.
 The Bible was Used to Justify Slavery. Then Africans Made it Their Path Towards Freedom - https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/the-bible-was-used-to-justify-slavery-then-africans-made-it-their-path-to-freedom/2019/04/29/34699e8e-6512-11e9-82ba-fcfeff232e8f_story.html?utm_term=.630c48473f97. Accessed July 2019.
Profiles in Africana Religion - Part 24: Fire Burn! Queen Agnes and Queen Mathilda and the Burning of St. Croix
As it has been discussed, history seems to work in patterns. When a people are pushing for freedom on one continent, there is likely people in a similar situation fighting for their freedom in another location. This pattern is brightly reflected in the history of African people in the New World. To explain, while Africans in the US were fighting for their freedom, similar movements were developing in other parts of the world. As well, during a period in which women of African descent were freeing minds and bodies in the US, similarly in the Caribbean, women were figuratively and literally, burning down the old visages of colonialism and slavery and leading their people freedom. The following series of essays will highlight the dynamics work of women freedom fighters in and through the Western Hemisphere, beginning with the Queens of the Fire Burn Rebellion.
Before dealing with the women themselves, it is critical to know a bit about the history of enslavement on the island of St. Croix. In July of 1848, the enslaved of St. Croix won their freedom by staging a nationwide uprising. The planters of the island were convinced that the enslaved would burn everything and anyone who kept them from being free, they therefore relented and worked to develop guidelines for emancipation. That is to say, a form of quasi freedom was granted to the enslaved of St. Croix who were on the verge of violently rioting all across the island nation. Essentially, the Dutch granted a form of emancipation to the African inhabitants of St. Croix, just to keep them from killing and burning everything. However, the freedom that was granted was cursory. The visages of oppression remained alive and well. This cursory freedom could and would only last for a generation, until 1878. In 1878, the African inhabitants of the island were disgruntled over the lack of advancements made on the island of St. Croix. The freedom promised was in name only, living and working conditions had not improved at all between 1848 and 1878. Of concern as well, was the lean harvest years of the 1870s, the African population was struggling to feed themselves and meet the quotas demanded from them by the land owners.
The rebellion started around quarter-day in St. Croix, a day that reminded many of the empty promises of the island’s governors. As well, the day offered Africans of the island the time and space to coordinate their rebellion. The weapon of choice for this rebellion was fire. The three women who led the Fire Burn rebellion – Queen Mary, Queen Agnes and Queen Mathilda – were essentially elected to their royal positions by their army of disgruntled workers. Queen Mary Thomas was identified as the leaders of the rebellions, Queens Agnes and Mathilda were chosen to be in Queen Mary’s court because they were present for the ritual that preceded the uprising. Mary Thomas, as she was born, first emerged on this plane on the island of Antigua in 1848. She did not arrive in St. Croix until the early 1860s, sometime during her teenage years. Queen Thomas was always rebellious, before she became the Fire Queen of the island, she had been arrested for a number of petty misdemeanors (a fact that could have been contrived by the Dutch government to discredit her and her efforts).
Queen Agnes and Queen Matilda are the lesser known compatriots of Queen Mary, but again they served as the royal court for this important rebellion. While Queen Mary was being named as the mother of this rebellion, as with the Generals of the Haitian Rebellion, the Queens and the weapons of the rebel army were blessed. To elaborate, according to legend, Queen Agnes and Mathilda stood as the Fire Burn field generals while Mary and the weapons were blessed for battle. During the rebellion, the rebels made quick work of many of plantations, burning houses and crops to the ground. The indignant inferno of St. Croix’s rebels burned homes, fields, business and crops; destroying all that European enslavers valued. The rebel forces where so powerfully overwhelming that, “On October 4, 1878 the British, French, and American warships arrived and offered to help stop the riot. By the time the riots were over, great destruction to the islands had occurred. Over 879 acres were burned, and the damage caused was estimated at hundreds of thousands of dollars.” When the eventual dust settled the three queens were captured, exiled to Denmark where they served a life prison sentence. .
Though the rebellion was suppressed and its queens imprisoned, the legacy of three Queens continues on the Island of St. Croix. In particular, Queen Mary is still valorized in song on the island:
"Queen Mary, ah where you gon' go burn?
Queen Mary, ah where you gon' go burn?
Don' ask me nothin' t'all
Just geh me de match an oil
Bassin Jailhouse, ah deh de money dey"
The fact that her and Queens Mathilda and Agnes are still valorized on the Island in memorial, song and statue speaks to historical tone the inhabitants of the Island want to maintain. They are a people who have fought and continue to fight for their freedom and sense human autonomy. Again, this sentiment is not to be taken lightly. Instead, it must be studied and the energy harnessed as our present freedoms are tested and our labors trivialized. As well, it must serve as a reminder of the critical role that African woman have and continue to play in the fight for global African freedom.
 Oddly enough, many of the freedom movements in the Caribbean were called “labor” disputes. It is odd verbiage, but it is implies choice, a choice that did not exist in the period of Caribbean colonialism. Could Nat Turner’s rebellion be called a labor dispute? Or better yet, was the Civil War simply the natural result of a labor dispute that got out of hand? The verbiage seems extremely problematic in that it fails to boldly call out the problem – this and many other conflicts were uprising of the oppressed – nothing less.
 This statement is referencing the work of women such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and the like who worked tirelessly in the latter half of the 19th century fighting for the freedom of African people.
 George F. Tyson, and Karen Fog Olwig. "‘Our Side’: Caribbean Immigrant Labourers and the Transition to Free Labour on St. Croix, 1849–79." Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Cultural and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean (1995): 135-61. This essay highlights the Labor Act of 1849 which would be a major catalyst for the Firburn riot in 1878 because of the erosion of rights year by year after the signing of this Act.
 Ibid. Lomarsh Roopnarine. "Maroon resistance and settlement on Danish St. Croix." Journal of Global South Studies 27, no. 2 (2010): 89.
 Neville Hall. Slave Society in the Danish West Indies: St. Thomas, St. John, and St. Croix. (Aarhus Universitetsforlag, 1992).
 The Three Rebel Queens - https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/fates/the-three-rebel-queens/. Accessed July 2019.
 Karen Fog Olwig. Small Islands, Large Questions: Society, Culture and Resistance in the Post-Emancipation Caribbean. (Routledge, 2014).
 The Three Rebel Queens - https://www.virgin-islands-history.org/en/history/fates/the-three-rebel-queens/. Accessed July 2019.
 The St. Croix Labor Riot Organized by 3 Women Leaders “Queen of the Fireburn.” - https://blackthen.com/the-st-croix-labor-riot-organized-by-3-women-leaders-queens-of-the-fireburn/. Accessed July 2019.
 Jeannette Allis Bastian. Owning Memory: How a Caribbean Community Lost Its Archives and Found Its History. (Libraries Unlimited, 2003), 12.
 Powerful Sisterhood Led to Freedom in the US Virgin Islands - https://www.nbcnews.com/news/nbcblk/powerful-sisterhood-led-freedom-usvi-n530221. Accessed July 2019. On this website, there is an image of a statue that was constructed in honor of the three Fire Burn Queens. European tourist to the island, perhaps do not recognized the significance of the memorial, but the residents of the island do, as they work to maintain a sense of autonomy and peoplehood.